By Starr Crusenberry
For as long as there has been horse racing in Maryland, there has been a need for equipment to train, ride and care for the horses at the track. Pratt Saddlery in Pimlico fulfills this need for the horsemen and horses at Pimlico Race Course, and has done so for nearly 60 years.
Pratt Saddlery has been locally owned and operated by the Hubert family since it opened for business in 1946 under the name Pratt Street Harness Company. "I am the second generation to take over the business. My father and uncles started it when racing in Maryland was in its heyday," said Arnold Hubert, owner of Pratt Saddlery.
Practically everything a rider or trainer could need can be found at Pratt Saddlery. They supply riders with clothing such as boots, pants, shirts, helmets, etc. Trainers can get feed supplements, vitamins, saddles, bits, bridles, lead ropes, leg wraps, brushes and other grooming supplies, medicines and ointments, or anything else they may need for their horses.
The shop's close proximity to the track has bode well for business. "We have done well because we deliver goods directly to the track. If a trainer needs bandages for his horse's legs, we can get that to them in a matter of minutes," Hubert said. "The only real competition we have is mail order or Internet orders, but they still can't deliver as fast as we can."
Trainers at Pimlico find Pratt Saddlery to be an efficient source for getting what they need in a hurry. "I've used Pratt [Saddlery] for a long time, the best thing about them is that they deliver directly to the track," trainer Jim Find said.
Pratt Saddlery experiences an increase in business around Preakness, according to Evelyn Steward, Pratt Saddlery's receptionist and office manager. "During Preakness most of the trainers and riders bring everything with them, but they usually find themselves in need of something at the last minute, which is were we come in," Steward said.
Although Pratt Saddlery does most of their business at Pimlico Race Course, they also deliver to Laurel Park and Bowie Training Center. With only five employees in all, the shop is a very busy place. "Some weeks I work between 50 and 60 hours trying to keep up with the orders, and delivering them to our clients," said Hal Spencer, a full-time Pratt Saddlery employee.
Hubert says they have to deliver to other tracks in Maryland to make up for the overall loss of people involved in racing in Maryland. With slots already at tracks in West Virginia and Delaware, many trainers are moving their operations to these venues because they offer bigger purses due to increased revenue from slots.
"If slots legislation is passed here it will increase Maryland race purses, which attracts more trainers to race their horses here, which means more money for everyone. It's a trickle-down effect that eventually makes its way to us," Hubert said. "Right now trainers are buying a lot of nylon products, which are cheaper and last longer, but the overall quality is not as good. But I can't blame them, they are doing what they have to do to get by because the money is just not there [in Maryland racing] anymore."
Pratt Saddlery is a fixture in Pimlico that shows no signs of disappearing with or with out slots Hubert says "We like to think service still matters, just as it did when my father started up this place in the forties, and that's how we keep our customer base."